Why YouTube’s Attempt To Stop Comment Trolls Will Fail

YouTube’s comments section has, and with superb reason, a reputation for being the worst scum pit on the Internet. If you want to hate humanity, pick a video, any video; it will have comments that make you want to smash the table, or possibly punt a small child for a field goal. YouTube is trying valiantly to stop the flood of stupidity, much to Stephen Colbert’s dismay, with a whole suite of features tied largely to Google+. And it’s a noble effort! It’s just not going to work.

Don’t get me wrong, it’ll be highly effective at stopping the fourteen year old deliberately trying to stir up feces by calling Freak Ocean an “urban thug” and the guy who has to call everything “gaaaaaaaaay.” Those guys will smack straight into a brick wall, or at least have their comments filtered. The problem is that those guys are also just a tiny subset of trolls on the Internet.

YouTube’s comments section speaks to its popularity. One seventh of the Earth’s population visits the site monthly. And the real problem with YouTube comments isn’t the teenagers among them. The problem is the idiots.

One side effect of the Internet that’s rarely discussed is that as it brings us closer together, idiots become harder to avoid. Every dolt and moron on your Facebook feed or who turns up in your Twitter is like that everywhere they go on the Internet. Worse, they hang out with other dolts and morons, so they think their behavior is socially acceptable no matter how often you yell at them about it. There are far too many human beings where the concept of agreeing to disagree or just dropping the subject completely for the sake of tact are as alien and bizarre as the landscape of Venus, and most of them have Internet connections at this point. There’s a shell, made of stupidity, or self-righteousness, or just stubbornness, that’s impossible to crack.

Nobody’s the bad guy in their own story; every idiot 9/11 truther insisting it was somehow the fault of the Jews is a crusading truth-teller in his own mind, not some anti-Semitic asshat. These people don’t look at their comments being filtered and think “Hm, maybe I should practice restraint.” They think “I must not be yelling loud enough.”

Worse, they’re smart enough to outwit filters. Pick a random video featuring a Black guy and see how often the term “urban thug” comes up, just as an example. Computers are great at spotting words, but lousy at context, and blocking commenters still won’t stop drive-by idiocy.

I have a lot of faith in technology for many purposes, and YouTube’s new policies will clean up comments and certainly will help raise the tenor of the conversation above its current level of “drunken brawl at a Klan rally.” But there’s only so much technology can do, and to be frank, if you’re laying down money on the ability of YouTube to somehow defeat or even challenge human stupidity, don’t bet the rent.